Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells develop in part of the pancreas. This may affect how the pancreas works.

Cancer can occur in any part of the pancreas, but about 70% of pancreatic cancers are located in the head of the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer can also spread to nearby lymph nodes (part of the immune system), blood vessels or nerves. Cancer cells may travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the liver.

This information is about the most common types of pancreatic cancer – adenocarcinomas and other exocrine tumours. Neuroendocrine tumours affecting the pancreas (pancreatic NETs) are covered in a separate section. 

Learn more about:

Who gets pancreatic cancer?

About 3080 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. More than 80% are over the age of 60.

Pancreatic cancer was estimated to be the tenth most common cancer in males and ninth most common in females in Australia during 2017.

Screening tests help detect cancer in people who do not have any symptoms. There are useful screening tests for certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer. However, there is currently no screening test available for pancreatic cancer.

What are the different types of pancreatic cancer?

Two main types of tumours occur in the pancreas:

Exocrine tumours – These make up more than 95% of pancreatic tumours. The most common type, called an adenocarcinoma, begins in the lining of the pancreatic duct. Less common types include adenosquamous carcinomas and undifferentiated carcinomas. The name of the cancer is taken from the type of cells involved. This information is about exocrine tumours of the pancreas, usually just called pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs)About 5% of pancreatic tumours are pancreatic NETs. These begin in the endocrine cells, which produce hormones to control blood sugar levels. Learn more about pancreatic NETs.

What causes pancreatic cancer?

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop pancreatic cancer.

Risk factors include:

  • smoking (cigarette smokers are about twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer)
  • ageing
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas)
  • certain types of cysts in the pancreatic duct known as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs) – these should be assessed by an appropriate specialist
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • family history and inherited conditions (see below).

Family history and inherited conditions

Most people with pancreatic cancer do not have a family history of the disease. However, about one in 10 people who develops pancreatic cancer has a faulty gene that can run in families. You may have an inherited family risk if you have two or more first-degree relatives affected by pancreatic cancer, or a history of an inherited syndrome. The “degree of relationship” describes how many genes are shared between two blood relatives. First-degree relatives, for example, your parents, siblings or children, share about half their genes with you.

Some inherited syndromes that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • the familial breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome
  • Lynch syndrome
  • hereditary pancreatitis.

If you are concerned about your family history or want to know more about genetic testing, talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Pancreatic Cancer

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in February 2018
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Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads.

Pancreatic NETs
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are cancers that begin in the endocrine cells of the pancreas. Learn more.

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope.

View our publications
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